Battling Bucs is Cutting Back

I must sadly report that with life catching up with me I am going to have to trim back my posting here at Battling Bucs. I have been doing everything I could to try to keep up my post per day rate over the last month and a half but I will no longer be able to do so. The site won’t end as I’ll continue trying to do a couple of posts per week and I’ll chime in with my thoughts on important Pirates moves. You can still follow me on Twitter and I’m doing some blogging on Pittsburgh Sport Forum so you can also check me out there. I’m not going to disappear from the online Pirates  fan community but I will have to scale back. I guess life catches up with all of us in time. Thank you to all of you who have stopped by and read my blog and I hope you continue to do so even if it will be running at a reduced pace.

Prospects: Catchers

AAA: Tony Sanchez

Backing up Tony Sanchez this season in AAA will likely be some combination of Lucas May, Ali Solis and Brian Jeroloman. All of three catchers are past their prospect days but should an opening arise in the majors it is possible one of them could get the call. As for Sanchez his prospect stock has took a hit down to the point where he is no longer widely consider the Pirates top catching prospect (Battling Bucs still gives him the slightest of edges though) but he still does have some upside and could be a useful major league catcher as early as later this season. Sanchez’s defense was said to be good when he was drafted and that remains the case; his game calling is also improving which means he looks to be a very capable receiver at this point in his career. The question is as it always was his bat. Sanchez recovered some last season from a terrible 2011 but his offensive numbers were still a disappointment. In order to move forward this year and show he still might be able to develop into at least an averae MLB starting catcher his offensive game particularly his power will need to make great strides.

AA: Carlos Paulino

Paulino will serve as the regular catcher in AA and be backed up primarily by Charlie Cutler. Kawika Emsley-Pai and others may play at the level as well but barring an injury it is likely to be sparingly. At this point in his career Paulino is essentially an extreme version of Sanchez. His defensive game overall is a little better than Sanchez’s but his bat is worse. Paulino’s defense alone has what it takes to make him a backup catcher in the majors but if he is ever going to have a shot at being a starting catcher he is going to have to show he can hit some. Paulino has hit fairly well in the past posting good numbers in 2011 but he struggled last season when he was forced to repeat A+. Now as the unquestioned starter in AA this is Paulino’s time to shine.

A+: Jacob Stallings, Elias Diaz

Stallings and Diaz are expected to split catching time in A+. Like Sanchez and Paulino these two catchers are noted more for their defense than their offense. Stallings was drafted last year by the Pirates in the early rounds mainly as an attempt to save cap space for making a run at Appel. He comes from the NCAA holding the single season record for throwing out runners attempting to steal. The Pirates are aggressively pushing him over regular A ball and straight to advance. This is a typical move for advanced college hitters but Stallings is not one of those. His offense will likely struggle but it is going to have to be his defense that carries him anyway. As for Diaz the Pirates seem to really like him but up to this point he really hasn’t shown much progress as a hitter. Like all the other catchers discussed so far he is going have to show some improvements with the bat to see his prospect stock rise.

A: Wyatt Mathisen

At this point I’m not really sure who will back up Mathisen but the Pirates are not short of options as the lower levels are filled with a ton of catchers (non prospects of course). Mathisen is a horse of a different color in this catching crop. He is widely considered to be the Pirates top catching prospect (Battling Bucs has him 2nd just slighly behind Sanchez) with his biggest weakness being his defense. Mathisen is really just becoming accustomed to the catcher position having played the majority of his high school career at the shortstop position. His bat is advanced for a high school player and his defensive game has shown flashes of potential but with this being a relatively new position to him there is still a lot to work on. The main challenge for Mathisen in 2013 will be just adjusting to being a full tiem catcher.

Lower Levels: Jin-De Jhang, Daniel Arribas

There was some talk the Pirates might consider moving Jhang to A ball with Mathisen and having them continue to split time between catcher and DH but that doesn’t appear to have happened. Jhang will start the season likely in short season ball. Like Mathisen, Jhang is relatively new to catching and has a lot of work to do to get the mechanics of the position down. His bat is strong for a catcher though and makes him an interesting prospect to watch. Arribas has played catcher, 1st base and 3rd base in the DSL but appears to be focusing entirely on catching right now. Arribas shown some hitting talent in the DSL last season and was moved up to the states this year. He will likely share catching duties in rookie ball this season as he adjusts to his more permanent position home.

Top 5 Catching Prospects

1. Tony Sanchez

2. Wyatt Mathisen

3. Jin-De Jhang

4. Carlos Paulino

5. Jacob Stallings

Opening Day!!!

Apologies in advance to the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers who opened last night but today is the true honest to goodness Opening Day. Nothing warms my heart more than those two little words, this is the best day on the calendar year for me and a true holiday. On today of all days anything really does seem possible. Every Pirates season I can recall has finished the same way in disappointment but no matter the outcome the one day that does not and can not disappoint me is Opening Day. There is just something magical about it. There are a few days every year in which we say the Sports world creates an unofficial holiday. Most prominent are probably Super Bowl Sunday, the beginning of March Madness and possibly the Olympics. More so than any of those days though Opening Day feels truly special more like a religious day than just a sporting day.

Those other days I mention aren’t holidays simply because of the sport. March Madness takes on its holiday like form largely do to office pools and gambling. Super Bowl Sunday takes on its holiday like feel largely do to the event and not the game. And the Olympics are more a celebration of human achievement than a celebration of any particular sport. Opening Day however, to me at least, has nothing like that attached to it. It is quite simply and purely the celebration of baseball. It is a day to sit back, remove all the noise (PEDs, lack of competitive balance, etc) and focus on the greatness of the game. The feeling of it, the sights, the smells are impossible to describe. For me everything just seems better this one day a year, my senses feel heightened and I walk with a spring in my step.

The reason for this great feeling I and I’m sure countless others feel is difficult to describe. There is just something about baseball some force which draws us to the games. No matter how bad our teams may be the ones who truly get baseball stick with it and ride the season through until the bitter (or sweet) end. If you can’t feel this force it is nearly impossible for me or anyone else to describe what it can do to a person but if you feel this force you will know immediately what I am talking about here.

The last couple of weeks have seen many disagreements between Pirates fans and baseball fans in general but today is the day we sit that all aside and welcome our game back. For this is truly a special and magical day. Enjoy it, live it and take in the magic. This is a day of great hope and where anything truly feels possible. There is no other day quite like today. Opening Day is here and the world is right again.

Pirates/Curve Recap

The Pirates lost to the OCurve today 8-6. That sounds depressing but in reality it isn’t. The game was by all means an exhibition meaning both sides took the game extremely lightly and both rosters were a state of flux with the Pirates roster having many Curve players and vice versa. By the end of the game the Pirates defense was Michael McKenry (C), Kelson Brown (1B), Josh Harrison (2B), Stefan Welch (3B), John McDonald (SS), Dan Grovatt (LF), Andy Vasquez (CF) and Jose Tabata (RF). Not exactly the starting eight you’ll see out there on Monday. Still the game was a joy to watch and had a few highlights. I have pictures which I will try to share later in the week but for now I’ll just give a quick summary of the events.

Before the game Frank Coonley, the Pirates president was about in the stands. Battling Bucs got his first chance to meet him. It wasn’t a long meeting of course but it was an interesting experience. Shortly before the game Coonley was again front and center as he announced the partnership between the Pirates and Curve was extended through 2018. Also before game action got under way the Pirates and Curve joined together for a group picture brining about another great sight.

Once the game actually got under way the first thing that became clear that McDonald either didn’t have or wasn’t using his best stuff. The Curve hit him around well and drew 3 walks in the first inning alone as all 9 hitters came to the plate. After JMac’s struggles Tony Watson took the hill for the Curve in the top of the 2nd and struggled a fair amount himself, His outing was capped when Starling Marte launched a grand slam into the outfield bleachers. Marte ended up having himself a banner day as he also added another hit and displayed his strong arm.

Later in the game Andrew McCutchen was robbed of a hit by a great diving catch in the outfield by Andrew Lambo and the very next hitter Pedro Alvarez had a well hit ball speared by Gift Ngoepe. It was some great defense being played behind Justin Wilson and I’m betting he hopes he gets that kind of help for his appearances starting on Monday. Shortly after this inning Nathan Baker entered the game for the Pirates and struggled mightily allowing 4 runs and missing with most of his pitches. It was not long after Baker’s performance the next top of the inning that the mass substitutions started. The scoreboard at the game wasn’t even to keep up with all the moves as the Pirates had players in the game without names on their jerseys and in some cases without even a number. This hybrid lineup did manage to get a few hits in the 7th and cut the deficit to 8-6 but that was as close as the game got.

The rest of the game was fairly uneventful and it seemingly went on forever. I’m not really sure what the cause of the slow pace of the game but I’m guessing it had something to do with all the substitutions and TV timeouts. As I stated earlier the game went well and was very entertaining but I also know there is nothing I or anyone can or should take from the outcome. For the record the game ended when Jason Townsend coming into face his first batter got Benji Gonzalez, who was pinch hitting for Josh Harrison, to fly out to right field. I have more to say but I’m typing this fairly late at night so this will have to do. I’ll add more notes when I post pictures of the game later in the week.

 

 

Pirates/Curve Game

Battling Bucs has taken the day off and what is he doing with his day off watching the Pirates play of course. I am in attendance at the Pirates and Curve exhibtion today watching not only the current Pirates play but a group of players who hope to be Pirates one day possibly even as soon as later on this season. Due to my absence any breaking Pirates news such as waiver claims or release or trades that occurs today will be not be covered by this site until later into the day. I will however have a full recap of the game and note any observations I make during a post tomorrow. Thank you all for reading my site and with the start of a new baseball season right around the corner I just wanted to say I’m looking forward to another great year of baseball and I am hoping to provide at least a couple of interesting pieces this season.

2013 Expectations: The Pittsburgh Pirates

Last offseason I did a 15 part preview of the Pirates upcoming seasons focusing on what I expected to see out of various positions at the major league levels, the minor levels, the coaching staff and the front office. The series went over fairly well with my readers so I have decided to bring it back for a second year. I’m not sure how many parts this year’s series will include but I will do my best to cover every key player I can think of.

Over the course of the last two seasons the Pittsburgh Pirates have come a long way. From losing 100+ games in 2010 to flirting with a playoff spot deep into August in 2012. From looking like a franchise void of any direction to having a bright future just on the horizon. The future looks better than now than it did just two short years ago but right now isn’t the time to worry about that. This is the time of year we ask ourselves not how future Pirates teams may look or perform but rather about how this year’s version of the team will look and perform. The Pirates have a large group of players returning and have added a handful of players they hope will be able to compliment the returning group well. In addition to the players added this offseason the Pirates will be counting on full seasons of players added to the roster last year and improved performances by last year’s regulars to improve the overall performance of the team.

The group of players the Pirates will be sending out on to the field Monday is most people’s opinions the most talented group the Pirates have fielding in quite a few years. Still there is no mistaking this group for a complete team which should be able to easily handle all the obstacles thrown at them and glide into the playoffs. The Pirates are a work in progress and as such the roster will be yet again in a constant state of flux during the 2013 season. Just what the expectations are for this team is difficult to pin down. As an improved group over the 2012 version one would assume an improved record should be in the forthcoming but the 2012 group was probably a little lucky in some regards meaning they actually finished ahead of where they should have. Still one gets the sense that if improvement in terms of record is not achieved some major changes in terms of coaching staff and front office will likely be coming either during this season or after the year.

What does this Pirates team have to do to be a success? Does this group have to make the playoffs? Just make a serious run? Just finish above .500? Just show improvements in overall performance regardless of the record? That is really up tom personal opinion but in my mind it is the last one. The group the Pirates have assembled isn’t a real contender and for that reason as long as they don’t post an awful record whatever their record winds up being is less important than how they go about achieving that record. If the core of the team takes a step forward and veterans like Burnett, Martin and Barmes struggle which causes the team record to be less than ideal I can live with that but if it happens the other way around things will be a little less pretty. A disclaimer here though in terms of whether there will be changes I don’t think how the Pirates go about achieving a substandard record will matter; if they post one changes will almost certainly be coming.

All of this still leaves me with the question of what am I expecting from this team this season. Above all else I am expecting growth. I’m expecting the team to find some young players to help compliment McCutchen. This would likely be players from the Alvarez, Marte, Snider and Tabata group. I’m expecting some youth to lay claim to rotation spots next season. This would be players from the Cole, McPherson, Locke and Irwin group. The Pirates have to be at a point at the end of this season in which they know what they have with this group. It is vital so they know how to proceed next offseason. Finding which players can truly help this team in 2014 and beyond is in my mind the most important thing that come out of 2013 however one can not completely ignore the overall performance. I still expect this team to play well.

When you slice right through it the talent on this team appears to have the talent of roughly a slightly below average team meaning somewhere in the neighborhood of 78 wins. However the range of possible outcomes for this team is huge. If things break relatively wrong for this team it could quite possibly lose 95 games but if things break relatively right for this team I could see it posting 90 wins. Either extreme though seems rather unlikely. Truth be told as it nearly always does the actual result will lie somewhere in the middle. This Pirates team will likely win somewhere between 75-85 games making them for all intents and purposes an average team. As for my actual prediction this year feels different but I have never actually predicted the Pirates to finish the season with a winning record. I don’t like this team enough to break that trend but on the other hand there is a different feel about it so I have do something different. It pains me to do this as it is the ultimate cop-out by my prediction for the record of the 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates is: 81-81

The AA Roster

Catchers: Carlos Paulino, Charlie Cutler
Paulino is a defensive first catcher who is graded by scouts as one of the best defensive catchers in the minor leagues. He stuck around with the big league camp until the final round of cuts so the Pirates must see something in him. Cutler is an organizational player who is a bat first catcher.

1st Base/DH: Alex Dickerson, Matt Curry
Both Dickerson and Curry are prospects to some degrees. If it wasn’t for the logjam of 1B types in AAA (Hague, Larish and possibly Robinson) Curry would almost certainly be there after a good season in AA. Both players have received a little time in LF this Spring but neither is an option there long term. Both players are good hitters but the question is whether either has enough power to make up for their defensive limitations.

Middle Infield: Jarek Cunningham, Gift Ngoepe, Drew Maggi
Cunningham will be the starter at 2nd and Ngoepe at shortstop. Cunningham is repeating the level because he struggled last season but has good power for a 2nd baseman so he is worth keeping an eye on. Ngoepe doesn’t do much with the bat but is a slick fielding shortstop. If he can hit even a little his glove will almost certainly carry him to the majors. Maggi was given an overslot bonus just a few years ago but is now just an organizational player. He could see time just about anywhere including the outfield but his primary purpose will be backing up the middle infield.

Other Infielders: Stefan Welch, Adalberto Santos
Welch and Santos figure to split the third base duties. Neither is a 3rd baseman by trade as Welch is better suited for 1st base and Santos has played almost exclusively the outfield. Welch is coming off an excellent season in A+ in 2012 which earned him a promotion to AA. He started off hot but quickly cooled down. He did have a good showing in the WBC for Team Australia this spring though. Santos has hit at every level the Pirates put him on and probably should be up in AAA this year but the roster figures to be a little crowded. He played exclusively the outfield last season but played some 2B the year before that. Santos is likely to see time in both the OF and 2B as well as adding 3B to his duties. If he can be passable defensively eat each position it coupled with his good contact skills could make him an intriguing bench option.

Outfielders: Mel Rojas, Andrew Lambo, Justin Howard, Andy Vasquez
Rojas is the only real prospect in this group. He has a good set of tools but hasn’t really put everything together. He probably isn’t ready for AA but with Polanco moving up to A+ the Pirates have decided to give him an aggressive push and let him continue playing center field. Lambo will be spending his 5th year at the AA level. This his last year before minor league free agency so if he is going to ever live up to that prospect hype its likely now or never. Howard has good contact skills but is poor defensively and has little power. In reality he shouldn’t be in the outfield but the only position he plays even half decently his first base and there is just no room for him there. Vasquez is a utility player who has been in the Pirates organization seemingly forever. He has played a little bit of everywhere but it appears he will serve mainly as a backup outfielder this season. In addition to these guys Santos is likely to see a lot of time in the outfield and Maggi, Dickerson and even Curry could get the occasional start as well.

Starting Pitchers: Jameson Taillon, Stolmy Pimentel, Brandon Cumpton, Casey Sadler, Tyler Waldron
Taillon is of course Taillon. He is the only true top flight prospect at this level. The main question surrounding him is when will he move up to AAA. Pimentel was acquired in the Joel Hanrahan trade and has a lot of upside but has struggled in AA in the past and is on his last option so he is going to have to impress quickly. Cumpton had moderate success in the AA rotation last year but wasn’t overwhelming so the Pirate have opted to have him repeat the level. Sadler is a prospect I like a lot but he is better suited for relief than starting. He pitched well last year both as a starter and a reliever in A+ and the Pirates like to keep their pitching prospects starting for as long as possible. Waldron was supposed to be moving to the bullpen but I guess the Pirates have had a change of mind. He really didn’t pitch that well last season in A+ but he was promoted near the end of the season so the Pirates must see some potential in him.

Relief Pitchers: Tim Alderson, Nate Baker, Jason Townsend, Jeff Inman, Luis Sanz, Ethan Hollingsworth, Kenn Kasparek
Alderson has seemingly been around forever but is still relatively young at only 24 years old. He gets another go around in AA and this could be his last chance to salvage his career. he still has that great curveball and his fastball is back in the lower 90s so anything is possible. Baker was in the AA rotation for most of last year but struggled and was moved to the bullpen. He did well there and as a left hander he shouldn’t be completely dismissed as an organizational player quite yet. Townsend was a prospect I was initially excited about when the Pirates drafted him because he was throwing in the upper 90s and striking batters out. However something happened last year and that good velocity and strike out numbers were no longer there. I will be curious to see if he can regain that form this season. Inman was a fairly highly touted 12th round pick by the Pirates who only slipped that low because of health concerns. Well so far those health concerns have proved to be a big problem as before last year he pitched in only 17 games over 3 seasons. he did remain relatively healthy last year and displayed good velocity but his strike out rates were low largely do to the lack of a good secondary pitch. The other 3 relievers were added this offseason to provide depth and are only organizational players.

Notable Omissions

The players I’m the most surprised to not see here are Zach Thornton, Kelson Brown and Dan Grovatt. Thornton was acquired this offseason for Resop and was talked about as the potential closer for the AA team. He had a high strike out rate last year but he was admittedly old for the level. Kelson Brown had a good showing in AA last year and looked like a possible future utility player in the major leagues. He didn’t have much of a ceiling but I would say he had a shot at a Rob Mackowiak type career. Finally Grovatt was one of the better hitters at A+ last year which again really isn’t saying a whole lot as the offense was terrible at that level. One other player to watch but he is not a notable omission is Ryan Beckman. Fan Graphs recently called Beckman a sleeper prospect and I agree with that assessment. Ordinarily he would be on this roster but he is still recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Top Prospects

1. Jameson Taillon

2. Alex Dickerson

3. Gift Ngoepe

4. Adalberto Santos

5. Stolmy Pimentel

6. Casey Sadler

7. Mel Rojas Jr

8. Matt Curry

9. Carlos Paulino

10. Brandon Cumpton

11. Jarek Cunningham